The most fundamental battle in which every Christian must daily engage is the fight to believe. The forces of unbelief are subtle and pervasive. To be sure, sometimes the assaults are direct, suggesting that God is a fantasy, dreamed up by the needy because they cannot cope with the real world. More often, they are quiet subversions of the truth, involving the slow dethroning of the God of Holy Scripture and the enthroning of self in His place.
Rarely does the devil try to convince us that there is no God at all. Since we all know and cannot avoid the fact that He does exist (Ps. 19:1–6; John 1:9; Rom. 1:18–19), it’s a hard sell. It requires many layers of careful preparatory deception about the nature of the world, the character of reality, the types of authority we will admit as valid, and so on, before the idea that there is no God becomes remotely plausible. And when it comes, the frontal assault on God’s existence, while occasionally distressing, can successfully be answered with rational arguments sufficient to silence these more obvious broadsides.
Far more insidious, however, are the sly whisperings of self-deception to which even the most mature Christian can fall prey. Why go to the trouble of attempting to disprove God altogether when all the devil need do is convince us that we are God? In the garden, this was the great lie: “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). And it’s been an attractive lie ever since. When Satan offered Jesus all the authority of the world if He would worship him, he was suggesting that Christ might reject the plan of the Father and take a shortcut to glory. It was an attempted appeal to self-interest. The devil’s gamble was the idea that worshiping him could be palatable for a human being only if that human being’s idolatry of self was stronger than any natural antipathy he might otherwise feel at such a repulsive act. And, to be fair, it had been a winning bet on every other occasion he had made it through the ages.
But on this occasion, the devil’s temptations found no purchase in Jesus. He had no self-interest, no idolatry of self, no ambition for self-exaltation. He came, rather, “to do the will of him who sent” Him (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). Because of the perfect obedience of Christ, the last Adam (Rom. 5:19), the believer’s victory over Satan’s schemes is assured. As Paul reminds the Romans, since the Seed of the woman has crushed Satan under His feet, “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (16:20). While we may struggle with unbelief and self-deception for a time, these are but skirmishes in a war Jesus has already won. In Christ, the unseeable God has been made known (John 1:18), and all attempts to shatter God’s elect on the rocks of unbelief must now end in failure. In this we can rest assured.